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Letter: It’s hard to shrug off past nuclear accidents

POSTED: January 9, 2017 1:00 a.m.

After reading James Rust’s letter defending the Public Service Commission’s support for nuclear power, I find it remarkable that he would casually excuse the three worst nuclear power accidents in world history.

Using a repetitive argument, Mr. Rust said the “Chernobyl accident was due to an unstable reactor design,” “the Fukushima accident was due to faulty plant designs” and “the Three Mile Island accident was due to faulty plant design features.”

That’s exactly the point. These nuclear power plants were state-of-the-art when they were built, yet all of them failed due to faulty design, causing catastrophic damage to the reactor and power plant and, in two cases, widespread radiation contamination to surrounding lands. The Fukushima reactor in Japan was manufactured by General Electric, so two thirds of these failed reactors are U.S. designs.

When nuclear power plants fail, radiation gets out. The cited examples indicate a lot of radiation can get out. You cannot casually dismiss this point.

Rust goes on to say, “Three Mile Island was an accident due to foolishness that produced no harm to humans and contained all damage within the reactor containment building.” The Three Mile Island accident is attributed to improper operational decisions of plant employees that violated established rules for plant operation. These decisions led to a cascade of unanticipated failures within the plant system. One failure led to another, which led to additional failures.

For instance, a critical pressure relief valve failed by sticking open when it should have closed. Worse, in the plant control room, the status indicator light for that valve showed it was closed when in fact it was stuck open. This hidden flaw in design of the plant control system produced confusion that significantly delayed a fix and ultimately allowed the reactor core to melt.

It’s dishonest to claim all the damage was contained within the reactor containment building. It wasn’t. Radioactive steam including a vaporized component of melted reactor fuel was vented into the atmosphere.

In addition, 32,000 gallons of leaked primary core coolant was automatically pumped out of the reactor containment building by a sump pump. Due to contamination by melted fuel, this coolant was 300 times more radioactive than design specifications allowed.

To fully appreciate the magnitude of these failures, Google “wiki Three Mile Island” and click the link for the Wikipedia article about the Three Mile Island accident.

Rust said Commissioner Tim Echols is “by far the most educated about the advantages and problems of nuclear power.” Someone should remind him the failed nuclear power plants cited above were all designed and built by the most educated people, too. See what that got us. All of that education could not stop what happened. The only way to prevent what happened is to stop building them.

If citizens stand guard and remain vigilant on issues that matter, we can help create a safer future for our children. Or we can go whistling past the graveyard and risk becoming the next Fukushima or Chernobyl.

Bruce Vandiver

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